Patients with sickle cell disease (SCD) have a lower risk for HIV-1 infection. We reported restriction of ex vivo HIV-1 infection in SCD peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) that was due, in part, to the upregulation of antiviral, inflammatory, and hemolytic factors, including heme oxygenase-1 (HO-1). Here, we investigated whether individuals with sickle cell trait (SCT), who develop mild hemolysis, also restrict HIV-1 infection. Ex vivo infection of SCT PBMCs exhibited an approximately twofold reduction of HIV-1 replication and lower levels of HIV-1 reverse transcription products, 2-long terminal repeat circle, HIV-1 integration, and gag RNA expression. SCT PBMCs had higher HO-1 messenger RNA (mRNA) and protein levels and reduced ribonucleotide reductase 2 (RNR2) protein levels. HO-1 inhibition by tin porphyrin eliminated ex vivo HIV-1 restriction. Among Howard University clinic recruits, higher levels of HO-1 and RNR2 mRNA and lower HIV-1 env mRNA levels were found in SCT individuals living with HIV-1. To determine the population-level effect of SCT on HIV-1 prevalence, we assessed SCT among women living with HIV (WLH) in the WIHS (Women InteragencyHIV-1 Study). Among WIHS African-American participants, the prevalence of SCT was lower among women with HIV compared with uninfected women (8.7% vs 14.2%; odds ratio, 0.57; 95% confidence interval, 0.36-0.92; P = .020). WIHS WLH with SCT had higher levels of CD4+/CD8+ ratios over 20 years of follow-up (P = .003) than matched WLH without SCT. Together, our findings suggest that HIV-1 restriction factors, including HO-1 and RNR2, might restrict HIV-1 infection among individuals with SCT and limit the pathogenicity of HIV.
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